The Toronto Irish Players presents John Patrick Shanley’s generational family drama Outside Mullingar
Up until last night, my only experience of Irish theatre was seeing The Playboy of the Western World at Shaw twenty years ago. I was nineteen then and doubt I fully appreciated John Millington Synge as I remember hardly anything about the play. I am inspired to revisit it, though, because of the Toronto Irish Players‘ quite lovely production of Outside Mullingar, a more contemporary Irish play by John Patrick Shanley, currently playing at Alumnae Theatre.
Mullingar is a rural town in the Irish midlands. Two families, the Reillys and the Muldoons, live alongside each other with their plots of land. There is something quaint and comforting about the very familiar tropes here of family grudges over property and petty squabbles that take on a mythic quality as they recede into shared history.
In the first act, we have the elders of each family, Aoife Muldoon and Tony Reilly, passing on property and legacy to the next generation. Anthony is Tony’s son and he takes care of the farm despite his father’s lack of faith in his abilities. Rosemary is Aoife’s daughter, who has just inherited her father’s land.
The second act takes place a few years later, after the parents have passed on. Despite living within throwing distance of each other, Rosemary and Anthony have barely interacted until this weighty conversation in her kitchen. In this second half of the story, Rosemary tries to coax Anthony into revealing his innermost thoughts and emotions, which, to her frustration—and the audience’s amusement—is a mighty task indeed.
I don’t want to spoil any of the details as there is a lot of pleasure to be had in the poignant little surprises the play has to offer. Unlike Shanley’s Doubt, there aren’t any moral conundrums here, just two people who were children together trying to reconnect as estranged adults.
Dermot Walsh and Barbara Taylor are funny and endearing as aging parents. I could sense, in their body language, a history that goes deeper than the anecdotes they share. Comfort and familiarity, when captured well, can be very compelling.
Chris Irving and Elaine O’Neal are equally lovable as the now middle-aged children. My guest (who is very fond of the way characters in Irish theatre express themselves) remarked that they didn’t take as much time to enjoy the language as he had hoped.
I found their delivery, for the most part, very persuasive.
I was jarred slightly by some of director Harvey Levkoe’s blocking. There are a handful of moments where a little too much stagey emphasis is given to significant character reactions. It has, of course, a stylistic appeal, but feels strange within an otherwise very naturalistic production.
At a time when politically charged tensions are high, this is a nice break from the harsh severity of life right now. Spend some time with well-drawn characters who, despite their disagreements, genuinely care for each other. Outside Mullingar is a tender and romantic retreat.
- Outside Mullingar plays until November 5, 2016 at the Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley Street)
- Shows run Thursday through Saturday at 8pm, with 2pm Sunday matinees
- Regular tickets are $25, $22 for Students and Seniors
- Tickets can be purchased online or by phone (416-440-2888)
Photo of Barbara Taylor, Chris Irving, Elaine O’Neal and Dermot Walsh by John McQueen